'Unload Your 401K' Campaign Asks A Chilling Question: Is Your 401K Helping Fund Gun Manufacturers?
News of the day: Your own 401k may be invested in gun manufacturers. The Unload Your 401k campaign, led by a coalition of 20 national organizations, launched Tuesday in an effort to establish transparency between corporations and the public over the issue. The campaign goes after several major U.S. gun companies, including gun giant Smith & Wesson, and lets the public take the fight with their own hands.
"Divestment is a new front in the war against America's epidemic of gun violence," Jennifer Fiore, executive director of Campaign to Unload, said in a statement. "It's time to defund the companies that profit from gun violence and obstruct the political change that would end it."
According to the campaign's data, nearly $2 billion in mutual bunds have been invested in three U.S. gun companies: Smith & Wesson, Sturm Ruger and Olin. Fiore added that more than 51 million Americans have a 401k plan that could be contributing gun lobbyists and "funding efforts that have stalled all action in Congress."
Unload Your 401k features an interactive website that allows users to do a background check of sorts on their 401k plans. After entering the name of your plan, the system quickly scans a database before telling you whether or not it's likely that your 401k is invested in public gun stocks. The website also provides HR guidelines for those who want their employers to divest gun companies from their retirement plans, as well as ways to rally support from coworkers.
Divestment, which requires institutions and businesses to remove financial support from companies for moral or political reasons, can be a powerful tool for change. The most famous example is the response to the South African apartheid during the 1970s and '80s. Then, many prominent U.S. universities and companies pulled investments from companies who did business in South Africa, eventually leading to the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986.
When done on such a large scale, as was the case of South Africa, divestment can have a great political effect. Although divestment today may not have the same financial impact, Eric Hendey writes in the Harvard Political Review that it may help shape public discourse.
However, gun rights in America is an increasingly decisive issue, and there's about an equal amount of people on either side of the issue. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center poll, about 50 percent of Americans believe it's more important to focus on gun control, while 48 percent think it's more important to protect the right to own a gun. So it may have to take a whole lot of divesting before gun companies — and gun rights politicians — take notice.
But with 30 Americans a day dying from gun-related incidents, maybe it's about time they do.